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Lovingly restored street organ promises ‘barrel’ of fun at top music festival

A rare street organ that’s been lovingly restored to its former glory will be a star attraction at a top music festival.

New life has been breathed into the Dutch organ called Astrid by owner Francis Stapleton, from Bala, and it will be out and about on the streets of Bangor during the city’s two-day music festival.

The event, which takes place on Friday and Saturday, February 14 and 15, at Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre in Bangor, will showcase Astrid’s talents as part of a unique collaboration between The Vale and Glamorgan Festival and Bangor Music Festival, led by Welsh composer David Roche.

The organ was originally built in 1957 in Rotterdam and has been painstakingly restored and modernised to expand her range and sound.

Ten multi-award-winning composers, including eight from Wales, were commissioned by the Vale of Glamorgan Festival to write short pieces for her in an exciting experiment and celebration of their artistry.

The works now form part of an exciting line up at Bangor Music Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year under the theme Music, Health and Wellbeing.

Astrid will be playing the new works during Saturday, February 15, first on Bangor High Street and later at Pontio.

Guto Pryderi Puw, festival director and senior lecturer and head of composition at the School of Music and Media, Bangor University, said: “The organ will certainly create a buzz and that’s what we want to bring to the festival. The event is for the people across the country to enjoy but also we’re trying to expand both our audiences and the nature of the music performed within it.

“I think it’s really interesting to see and hear the different approaches towards the organ from each composer. Some have gone down the traditional route, bordering on being a pastiche of the more traditional organ music. Others have experimented a bit more with a few delving into the mechanics of the organ and composed extremely complex music that would otherwise be impossible for a human being to play on a traditional organ.

“So, you will get a taste of what the instrument used to do and also what it can do today.”

Dutch street organs are equipped with multiple ranks of pipes and percussion and although smaller than fairground organs are capable of belting out an impressively loud sound.

Originally the organs played books of music – cardboard books full of holes which passed through key frames that read the music. However, many street organs, including Astrid, have been technologically modified to operate with a MIDI system which sees electromagnets opening the valves to produce the notes.

Francis, who owns 12 organs of various types, bought Astrid in 2001 and has been painstakingly restoring her ever since, including fitting her with an additional rank of pipes.

“I’ve made a few additions and restored the front as far as possible back to her original condition and the colour scheme, including replacing front panels which had disappeared,” said the 68-year-old, who embarked on his hobby while a young schoolboy.

“Because I have lengthened her scale she is very suitable to modern composers and their music. Physically, she looks small but she’s very capable of playing good music.

“Astrid probably weighs nearly half a tonne.  She’s very much a unique sound and there’s not another organ quite like her. The composers were very pleased with how she sounds and they were pleased with what they had done. It was something totally new for them.

“Hopefully we’ll bring a bit of pleasure to people walking through Bangor.”

Visitors will have the opportunity to hear the creations of composers Mark David Boden, Graham Fitkin, Gareth Glyn, John Metcalf, Lynne Plowman, Steph Power, Guto Pryderi Puw, Claire Victoria Roberts, David Roche and Ben Wallace, who have all been involved in the project.

David Roche, who grew up in Tredegar, wrote ‘Uniquely Physical’ for Astrid and said it was a unique experience.

“For such a relatively old object it’s technologically very difficult and complicated,” he said.

“There are lots of little quirks that come with writing for organs. In other words, it’s not the most ‘friendly’ interface for composers but it’s never boring and I think Francis is the most enthusiastic and helpful person you could have on a project like this. With all its challenges, it was a lot of fun.”

Bangor Music Festival kicks off with a concert by UPROAR and Electroacoustic Wales on the Friday evening, February 14, at Pontio, where six new pieces by young Welsh composers will be featured.

During Siwan Rhys’ Saturday afternoon concert, audiences will be treated to two world premieres of new works for piano and electronics by composers Juan Pablo Barrios and Tim Sissons, exploring ‘loneliness’. There will also be a recent work by Joanna Bailie called ‘Roll Call’ which is inspired by nostalgic memories of old photos.

And Saturday evening’s concert, entitled ‘Returning’, will combine new musical commissions by local composers Katherine Betteridge and Sioned Eleri Roberts with electronic sounds by Duncan Chapman.

“We have been lucky enough to be running since 2000 and this is our 20th festival,” explained Dr Puw.

“The festival has grown in popularity and we have always concentrated on classical contemporary music, acousmatic music and some experimental music. We are very proud of that history and proud of our involvement within the local community, which includes many school pupils in our activities where we aim to inspire them to create and perform their own music within one of the best performing venues in Wales.

“The festival has become an important event within the musical calendar of North Wales, the 2020 festival will be no exception!”

To find out more about the Bangor Music Festival or for tickets please visit